Last year, Forbes declared university professor the Least Stressful Job of the Year (Adams). The response was so strong that the writer issued a corrective Addendum, and the magazine published a variety of rebuttals explaining the stresses of this seemingly cushy job (c.f., Kroll, Willingham). In the wake of this controversy and resulting reality checks, faculty working conditions have changed dramatically. Reforms have swept across campuses, public awareness has shifted to elevate all educators above even the most beloved professional athletes, and politicians no longer describe them with scorn.* The 2014 Least Stressful Jobs list has just come out,** and university professor has again made the list–but this time, rightfully so. It’s #4 on Forbes‘s list and #2 on CareerCast’s Best Jobs of 2014. We clearly have more work to do, but let’s celebrate the reforms of the last year that led to this well-deserved recognition.
Top 10 Campus Reforms that Made University Professor
One of the Least Stressful Jobs of the Year
(Really, This Time)
10. Promotion, tenure, publication, and pay are now based on clear, explicit criteria.
9. The above criteria now allow for work-life balance, rather than rewarding or even requiring workaholism.
8. Institutions of higher education have shifted away from the cost-cutting and exploitative tendency to replace full-time faculty with temporary, part-time adjuncts.
7. Universities no longer operate under business models that prioritize the customer, the dollar, and the bottom line.
6. Students frame their college experiences as learners curious about the world around them, particularly the worlds they’ve not yet known, rather than as customers seeking a grade and a job.
5. University committees have lost their bloat, and participation on the remaining committees is evenly distributed among all faculty.
4. Teaching is now valued as equally as valuable as research because everyone realized we not only have to cure cancer for future generations, we also have to help them become thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate citizens.
3. As a result of #4, teaching loads and class sizes at all institutions are now low enough for faculty to design effective, inclusive, challenging, and supportive learning environments for all students because these reforms have allowed faculty to take the time and energy to teach from their passions for their fields and for their students.
2. Campuses have designated regular times and places to support and encourage meditative practices by faculty, staff, and students, recognizing the overwhelming evidence of the psychological, physical, cognitive, and behavioral benefits.
1. Faculty, staff, and students–also recognizing the evidence in #2 and making a conscious effort to improve mental and physical health, decrease stress, facilitate learning of all kinds, and act with empathy–have developed and started sharing regular mindful practices.
Although this list may sound as likely as little green men right now, some of it is within our reach. I’ll take us back to Tan’s “the Easy Way and the Easier Way” (p. 26), a great place to start with #1 above:
“The creatively named Easy Way is to simply bring gentle and consistent attention to your breath for two minutes. That’s it. Start by becoming aware that you are breathing, and then pay attention to the process of breathing. Every time your attention wanders away, just bring it back very gently.
The Easier Way is, as its name may subtly suggest, even easier. All you have to do is sit without agenda for two minutes. Life really cannot get much simpler than that. The idea here is to shift from ‘doing’ to ‘being,’ whatever that means to you, for just two minutes. Just be.”
Here’s a timer. Set it for 2:05—to give yourself time to shift from clicking your mouse to the practice. When you click “Start,” look down comfortably, or close your eyes. The timer will alert you at the end.
Repeat every day.
Now, what can we do to move toward #2?
* For example, remember when Wisconsin governor Scott Walker–who was just this week named Most Influential People by Time magazine–characterized the faculty of the University of Wisconsin System (and other public workers protesting his policies) as lazy, overpaid freeloaders?
** I wrote about these lists last year and mentioned then–as I will now–that yes, there are plenty of careers that are more stressful than ours, for a lot of reasons, but I’m most interested in how we experience stress, and we don’t experience it comparatively. Knowing that someone else is more stressed than you doesn’t make you feel any less stressed.